Two people hug outside of a grocery store
People hug outside the scene after a shooting at a supermarket on May 14, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. Credit: Joshua Bessex / AP

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The idea that non-white immigrants are coming to the United States as part of some “Great Replacement” is foolish. Period. End of story.

Immigrants want to come to the United States today not for some surreptitious race war, but rather the same reason immigrants have come for centuries. For example, European Jews were fleeing danger in their homeland, Italians and Irish sought economic opportunity, while early French settlers sought religious freedom.

The accused 18-year-old Buffalo shooter — his name isn’t worth mentioning — apparently subscribed to the “Great Replacement” theory. He planned his attack over months. Last June, he did a school project on murder-suicides, which led to a mental health evaluation. It seems he was cleared; New York officials didn’t attempt to “red flag” him to prevent him from buying firearms.

The alleged assailant was a young, mentally disturbed individual motivated by an ideology of hate. The next day, an older, mentally disturbed individual motivated by an ideology of hate unleashed his own rampage in California. That alleged assailant was a Chinese immigrant who seemingly detested Taiwanese people.

Both of these individuals are responsible for their own actions and should be held accountable accordingly. But, as happens all too often, politics immediately infected the response to the Buffalo massacre.

The Portland Press Herald’s editorial board lambasted Maine Republicans for the attack. They pointed out a poll from last year to suggest that the GOP substantially shared the ideology of the assailant. They left out the fact that a significant percentage of Democrats held similar views.

The reflexive attempt to blame Republicans does a disservice to the public debate. It forces people into their camps and engenders an “us” versus “them” attitude. And it glosses over the fact that these problems — wild, false online theories taking root — are not confined to a specific political party.

Tuesday night illustrated the nuance of reality. More than 50 percent of Pennsylvania Republican voters cast ballots in favor of either a Muslim Turk or a Black woman to be the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate.  

It appears that Dr. Mehmet Oz was the winner. And if I told you five years ago that the first Muslim to ever be elected to the Senate might be a Republican, you probably would have scoffed. The fact that he served in the Turkish Armed Forces and is a Turkish citizen only adds to the incredulity.

None of this is meant to excuse or ignore the fact that there are some people who claim they are Republicans while holding racist beliefs. There are.  

But their failings do not apply to the GOP generally, anymore than Democrats writ large are responsible for their fringe elements’ belief that “all cops are” an unsavory term beginning with “b,” or some Greens who claim that Vladimir Putin doesn’t bomb children.  

One of the new Maine Republican initiatives this year brought a multicultural center to Portland.  Not exactly the strategy of a group purportedly worried about the “Great Replacement.”

Immigration is a very real challenge for the United States. Our history surrounding race is a very real challenge for the United States. Dealing with them will take a lot more than partisan bickering and attempts to score points by assigning political blame.  

It will also require difficult debates on substantive policies that are far too easy to degrade into “racism” — or other “ism” — accusations. Call it the “Great Replacement” of the caliber of public debate, adding nuance and good faith.

Achieving that requires calling out heinous beliefs wherever they arise. The accused murderers in both Buffalo and California were deranged individuals apparently motivated by racial and ethnic animus.  

They should be held responsible for their actions.  

Michael Cianchette, Opinion columnist

Michael Cianchette is a Navy reservist who served in Afghanistan. He is in-house counsel to a number of businesses in southern Maine and was a chief counsel to former Gov. Paul LePage.